I brought a book home from work yesterday, The Happiness Curve: why life gets better after fifty. I’m rather obsessed with happiness research anyway, but it did give me pause when I picked the book up. I don’t just want to read this because it’s about happiness, I also want to read it because, suddenly, life after fifty is relevant. In a month, I turn 46. In three months my husband will be 48. We aren’t just thinking about the distant future when we talk about mid-life. We have arrived.
This is mid-life. Believe me, it’s as surreal as it sounds.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this place in life lately, mid-life. Many people avoid talking about it or seem embarrassed by it, which I understand on one level. There’s not much glamor in sagging skin and hot flashes, nor in 401Ks or IRAs.
However, I’m fortunate experience a perspective shift two days before each birthday when I (quietly) celebrate my cancerversary (which is also my youngest daughter’s birthday). Each year I am reminded, aging is a gift, not a curse. A privilege. It’s an honor to simply be here, living and breathing and walking and talking and being in this beautiful world.
This is mid-life. For so many years my prayers were simply to get here, to this place that’s often spoken of in whispers or coarse ribbing.
Recently, I was talking with some of my, much younger, co-workers about old age. Most of them were certain they didn’t want to live into their 80’s and 90’s – ages that are so many decades away, it seems unfathomable. But for me, I could only think, how do you not want more time, more life? Maybe it’s easier for me to want another forty because I know how swift and achingly wonderful the first forty can be. Perhaps I’m reluctant to admit that my life may already be “in decline” – whatever the hell that means.
I realize that it’s a profoundly lucky few who can look at life and wonder, how do you not want all of it you can possibly have? Maybe that’s the cancer talking, still, after all these years. I remember being desperate to have just a little more – time, life, experience. Maybe it’s greedy to have allowed that desire to grow exponentially having already received so much more – time, life, experience – than I even imagined.
I only know that in the last year, everything has changed, and in another it will all change again, possibly, probably, and I really don’t want to miss any of it. Not next year or the next or as many nexts as I get to have.
Last year’s Pulitzer for fiction was a gorgeous little book about a man having a mid-life crisis. It’s been exciting, for me, over the last year to see an emerging new sub-genre of literature, aging fiction. Maybe ‘Aging Fiction’ isn’t what other people are calling it; I like to make things up as I go, a great privilege of aging.
Aging fiction is a little niche of writing where authors explore the reality of living a long life, or at least a life that isn’t complete at 35, when marriage, career, and kids are fresh. It’s easy to get caught up in tropes and charicatures when writing mature characters – the sassy grandmother, the cougar, the sweet, crochety old man – but in my experience, people are far more complex and interesting than these 2-D representations of aging. I’m interested in the depth and nuance of a person, and the layers of life-strata that shape a person. I’m finding more of this in literature recently and it’s lovely.
Perhaps this isn’t relevant to everyone, but I experience a great deal through reading, and translate much of my experience through writing, so it matters to me, this realm of literary exploration. Or perhaps seeing more of this type of character is simply my perspective. After all, when I was raising children, it seemed everyone was writing about parenting. Now I’m releasing children, so I should be seeing this phase of life everywhere.
But I’m not sure many people are talking openly about mid-life, not in creative or nuanced ways, anyway. Maybe we can, though…in fact, maybe we should. Maybe it’s healthy for us to talk about the ways it’s exciting and terrifying to let your children call another place home, or to realize the disappointment of the things you hoped to accomplish which now seem less likely.
Maybe we should talk about the freedom and the fear and the disappointment and the elation and the ways you may not recognize the person you are now. Not because these are feeling specific to mid-life, but because they are common to humanity. Only now that the kids are grown, I have the breathing space to consider them more fully.
After a full year of healing from trauma, I’m beginning to embrace, again, the idea that life is a dish that’s sweeter when it’s shared. And I’ve stopped giving mental real estate to caring whether or not sharing is approved. To be blunt, I have less Effs to give every year, and I didn’t have many to begin with.
There are a million reasons why I’m too damn busy to embark on a new direction, a new project, a new “brand” (I’m pretty sure that’s the first and last time I’ll be talking about a brand here. I’ve out-aged that as well.) But after forty-five years I can tell you, there will always be a million reasons not do something and sometimes you just do it anyway.
This is Mid-life.